In a letter to the profession, Isabelle Trowler and Lyn Romeo acknowledged that the “collective public shock about the cruel treatment to which Arthur was subjected” had created “a difficult context” for social workers’ practice.
They referenced remarks by education secretary Nadhim Zahawi in his statement to Parliament yesterday on the government’s response to the circumstances behind Arthur’s murder, condemning the abuse of professionals.
‘No professional should experience abuse’
“Those already serving our country’s most vulnerable children deserve our thanks, and I want to be extremely clear that no safeguarding professional should be the victim of abuse,” said Zahawi. “The targeting of individuals is wrong and helps nobody, but that does not mean we should not seek to understand what went wrong and how we can stop it happening again.”
Chief social worker for children and families Trowler and Romeo, her adults’ equivalent, told social workers: “We want to reiterate this message. The part you play in supporting and protecting the country’s most vulnerable children, adults and families makes a positive difference each and every single day.
We condemn those targeting abuse towards individuals and the social work profession.”
More details on Arthur reviews
In his statement to the House of Commons, Zahawi set out more details on the national review into Arthur’s case and the inspection of Solihull services he had commissioned following the jailing of Arthur’s killers.
He said timelines and terms of reference would be published later this week, but confirmed that the national review, by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, would be led by its chair, Annie Hudson. She is the former director of children’s services at Lambeth and Bristol councils, and was chief executive of the former College of Social Work.
Zahawi said: “Annie and her colleagues on the national panel, who come from the police, health and children’s services, have dedicated their lives and decades-long careers to bettering the lives of the most vulnerable children in our society. I have every faith that their review will be robust, vigorous and thorough. I have already assured Annie, as I assure you now, Mr Speaker, that she will be given all the support she needs to do the job properly.”
Inspection to focus on entry to child protection
On the joint targeted area inspection of Solihull, involving Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the police and probation inspectorates, Zahawi said this would have a “sharp focus on the entry point to the child protection system across all agencies”.
He said the inspectorates would start work next week, adding: “As part of this inspection, all the agencies tasked with protecting children at risk of abuse and neglect in Solihull will have their effectiveness considered, and be instructed on where improvements must be made in Solihull and where learnings can be applied in other areas around the country.”
Zahawi also strongly backed the government-commissioned review of children’s social care, led by Josh MacAlister, in providing an effective response to improving child protection.
He said he was “confident that the review will deliver recommendations that I hope we can be ambitious about and deliver rapidly”.
Calls to boost resources and cut bureaucracy
In questions following his statement yesterday, Zahawi was pressed repeatedly by MPs about the need to boost resources for children’s services, including to lower social work caseloads, and to cut bureaucracy for practitioners.
The education secretary said both would be addressed by the care review, and that he was keen to cut bureaucracy and would consider seriously recommendations from MacAlister for more resource.
“Importantly, the review will look at how social workers, especially those with the most experience, can spend time with families and on protecting children,” he added. “We all know that social workers do their best work with families, not behind a desk.”
On resource, Zahawi cited the fact that councils’ spending power – the maximum amount available to them to spend – was due to go up by 3% a year in real terms from 2022-25 under the government’s spending review.
This is dependent on authorities raising council tax by 3% per year (1% of which would be ring-fenced for adult social care) and takes into account funding to expand the scope of adults’ services under the government’s social care reforms. Excluding the latter, like-for-like spending power will rise by just 1.8% per year in real terms, according to think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
MacAlister has repeatedly said that the children’s social care system needs more funding, but his contract with the DfE stipulates that requests for additional resource must be cost-neutral across government over time.
MacAlister has suggested that this could be achieved by investing in early intervention to reduce spending on late intervention, and in children’s social care generally to save money in other areas of government, such as on unemployment, health and housing.
Zahawi added: “So more money is going into local government, but, depending on what the MacAlister review delivers, I would certainly be the first to make the argument for properly resourcing children’s social care.”
Minister: too many agency staff
The education secretary also said the government wanted to reduce the number of agency social workers in children’s services, who numbered 5,800 as of last September, 15.4% of the workforce. This reflects a performance indicator set by the government in its spending review to track the proportion of locums working in local authority departments or children’s trusts.
Zahawi said we have “far too many agency workers”, adding: “We want that experience and leadership to be working full time in a local authority system rather than on an agency basis.”
In its response to Arthur’s case and the national review, the British Association of Social Workers England said: “We hope this review explores the increasing challenges facing a dedicated but increasingly challenged workforce.
“We need to urgently address the recruitment problems in social work, encourage more people into social work from a diverse range of backgrounds, and improve working conditions, so that good, experienced social workers stay in post. This will take extra resources, more training, time for reflective supervision, emotional and practical support for social workers, and increased long-term and short-term funding.
‘Vilification does not protect children’
“We are hopeful that the review does not repeat the mistakes from the past where we narrow the scope to blaming individuals and fan the flames of public vilification.
“That approach does not protect children. It only leads to more social workers, who are already under significant pressure that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, leaving the profession. This will ultimately cause further harm to families and children that have a right to and deserve protection and care.”
In its response to the case, the Care Review Watch Alliance, a group of social workers, care experienced people, foster carers and academics that is scrutinising the review, said: “We know from practitioner accounts that there has also been a marked increase in the complexity and difficulty of child protection work during the pandemic, particularly where some children already known to be vulnerable were not seen by any professionals other than social workers – removing important protective layers from these children’s lives.
“It is vital that any child who may be at risk is seen by an experienced social worker who has the time to spend with them, to listen to them, build trusting relationships with them and understand what life is like for them from through their eyes. The pandemic continues to place additional strain on these stretched services through workplace absences, uncertainty, changing guidance and even further reduced resources.”
Warning against family support child protection split
It also warned the care review against recommending the separation of family support and child protection in the light of MacAlister’s concerns about the tensions between children’s services managing both roles.
The alliance added: “CRWA caution against splitting off these two components in the children’s social care system in England. The last thing children and families need is greater fragmentation where even bigger gaps would be created in the cross-agency protective and support services, if the two were to become disconnected from one another.”